- Associated Press - Sunday, July 11, 2010

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (AP) - In the Rev. Paul Vlaar’s rural church, the candles, the piano, even the pastor’s robes were orange for a day.

Vlaar kicked off his sermon to about 300 orange-clad worshippers by praying for Dutch teamwork to lead to victory in the World Cup final against Spain in Johannesburg on Sunday. During the service, Vlaar kicked a soccer ball down the aisle and “You’ll never walk alone” was played on an orange piano.

Vlaar’s small Roman Catholic church north of Amsterdam provided just one small scene from a nation in a joyful frenzy _ triggered by its first appearance in the World Cup final since losing back-to-back title games in 1974 and ‘78 to West Germany and Argentina.

“All the things come together,” Vlaar said after the soccer-themed Mass. “There was sport, there was faith, there was love.”

The fervor was just as strong in Spain, where newspaper ABC featured the country’s flag and just one word on its front page: “Spain!”

The reigning European champion is in its first World Cup final, featuring a lineup of stars from Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Downtown Madrid was festooned with flags and the central Cibeles fountain, often a scene of celebration after Real Madrid wins, was draped in a flag.

A giant TV screen was set up next to Cibeles, facing up the Paseo de la Castellana boulevard where up to 250,000 fans were expected to watch and cheer the match live.

Eighteen-year-old Jose Herrero, wore Spain’s red and yellow jersey as he rode his bicycle.

“We are going to win the World Cup, how amazing,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing that has happened in my lifetime.”

The Dutch capital, Amsterdam _ along with cities across the nation _ were being decked out in orange. Giant soccer balls were suspended from orange garlands strung across streets, and orange balloons were strung across the cash registers in the Albert Heijn supermarket on the Koningsplein.

Fans began arriving at a giant screen behind the Van Gogh Museum around noon _ more than eight hours before kickoff in South Africa.

Hup Holland Hup! _ a traditional chant when the national team plays _ was one of the top trending topics on Twitter as fans retweeted “huphollandhup” to bring their team luck.

Outside Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, Dutch fans appeared to outnumber Spaniards about four hours before the match, with wild outfits the order of the day. Two guys wore clown getups in orange and black for the Netherlands, while a paunchy man stuffed into a red matador costume stopped to get a Coke at an outdoor cafe.

___

Associated Press Writers Deborah Seward in Amsterdam and Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

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